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Of Bees and Business: the Mazahua Tianguis
By Andrew Livingstone 12-May-15
It looks from the outside like a regular Wednesday of classes, but inside, the Middle School building is abuzz with activity. Students, many dressed in yellow with black stripes, shout from their stalls as they compete with each other to sell honey, sweets, and a whole range of bee-related products. While it seems like no more than a fun exercise for students, it is actually the culmination of more than a month of interdisciplinary work for Grade 6 students at The American School Foundation (ASF) in Mexico City, combining academics, community service, and entrepreneurship. The tianguis (Spanish for bazaar), was a chance for students to sell their own bee products and make an impressive donation to a local indigenous community—the Mazahua, an indigenous people of Mexico whose language is spoken in the central states. Crucially for students, it was also a chance to drive their own learning. The Mazahua Tianguis was the brainchild of ASF’s Grade 6 teachers. It started with a simple idea in mathematics class: that students design a business plan using bee products, and then execute that plan. It forced students to use real life applications of mathematical and economic concepts, including graphing, profit margins, economies of scale, and many other calculations. But teachers saw the opportunity for a more interdisciplinary approach. So they teamed up with social studies, science, world languages and other subjects to make the Mazahua Tianguis a larger-scale project as part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Program. Students chose a bee-related project to research, and presented work explaining to their peers the history of human interaction with bees and use of bee products, which dates back to before civilization itself. Most importantly, they included practical experience in the students’ annual camping trip to Pipiol, in the central Valley of Mexico. While camping, students visited an indigenous Mazahua community, where they learned about the Mazahua way of life in modern Mexico. They also visited a nearby apiary, where they donned protective gear and saw first hand how honey and other bee products are produced. Later, they put their knowledge and experience to the test in executing their bee-related business plan at the Mazahua Tianguis. Students were in control of every phase of their business, working in groups of two or three to decide what product to produce, how to produce it, and how to price it. Sweets were obviously the most popular products, as they were the easiest to make—and easiest to sell—but other innovative students made soaps and even beeswax candles. Students, teachers, and parents stopped in to browse and buy, and at the end of the tianguis, most of the product was sold. After a lunchtime of bargaining and selling came to an end, the students counted their funds and worked out their profits. All money raised was pooled into a total of 42,000 pesos (almost US$3,000)—a significant improvement on past years’ efforts and a pleasant surprise for all involved! These funds were split into two equal donations. One was given to the school’s Annual Fund, which is used to provide financial aid for students who would otherwise not be able to afford an education at ASF. The other half has been donated to help support the Mazahua community. The success of the Mazahua Tianguis project is the result of a dedicated group of teachers pooling resources and combining different subjects into one combined, interdisciplinary project. Next year, the leaders of the Mazahua Tianguis project intend to go even further, raising more funding for financial aid and the local indigenous community. Mr. Livingstone is Communications Coordinator at The American School Foundation in Mexcio City
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